Why holidays make us happy

We talk to Dr Tim Sharp (aka Dr Happy) of The Happiness Institute about why going on holiday is so good for our wellbeing, and what we can learn from our “holiday selves”.

Carnival Cruise ship, Mystery Island
Mystery Island

We all know that the old adage “money can’t buy happiness” is true – well, largely true. Indeed, other factors like gratitude, purpose, giving and positive relationships have been shown to spark more joy than winning the lottery.

But research by Carnival Cruise Line shows that saving up for – and splashing out on – experiences rather than objects can, in fact, have a profound impact on boosting our happy hormones.

According to research, we readily adapt to “objects”, which means that the initial excitement we felt when purchasing something eventually fades. On the other hand, experiences continue to bring us joy every time we think about them.

Which is exactly why holidays are so good for us.

Pack your bags

A holiday is your time to recover from work, switch off your mind (and devices), reconnect with family and friends, forget about housework and wake to a new view daily – what’s not to like?

“We all know that holidays can be enjoyable when you’re away,” says Dr Tim Sharp, who arguably has the best business card title in the world: CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) of The Happiness Institute.

“But what some don’t fully appreciate,” he continues, “is that holidays can also be fun before and after we travel. Looking forward to a trip with hope and excitement, and then looking back and positively reminiscing, can also add to our happiness and wellbeing.”

The health benefits of a holiday

So just planning a vacay can have mental health benefits, according to Sharp, who’s generally known as Dr Happy and is a leader in the field of positive psychology. Even before you pack your bags, you’re enjoying an endorphin high, he says.

You’re also potentially enjoying a physical high: studies show that taking a holiday can reduce the chance of heart disease and stroke, boost brainpower, cut back on stress and improve sleep patterns.     

Discovering your “holiday self”

“What’s more, we can benefit from holidays by learning from our ‘holiday self’,” says Sharp. “That person who’s more fun, more relaxed and who connects more with others. There’s no reason we can’t be that person more often; in fact, if we can, we’ll get closer to living our best possible lives.”

Carnival’s own research backs up what Sharp says, and what many of us have known since we started exploring the world: we feel like different people when we’re on holiday. In fact, two-thirds of Australians (64 per cent) and three-quarters of parents (74 per cent) say they prefer their alter-ego “holiday self” over their regular self.

The majority of us feel that our families prefer us when we’re away from home – perhaps on a beach or zipping down a water slide – as well.

It makes sense: when we’re away from the daily grind, we’re energised, curious, open to fresh experiences, empathetic, vulnerable, creative, carefree and full of new adventures to share with our loved ones – each contributing to a more rounded life.

In the words of Dr Happy: “Life can be a lot of fun, but there can also be a lot of stressors. So it’s important to make time for yourself.”